Pakistan’s education sector is surviving in a dark abyss. The malfunctioning department has rotten roots. First, the primary level shall be dealt with when coping with an issue on a macro scale. So is the case of education. Formal education kicks off at the school level. Checks must be made in the schooling system of Pakistan to mend the system and steer the voyage of educational development in the right direction.
A highlighted, despite the culpably neglected problem, that veteran educators pick up is rote learning. This mode prioritizes memory over assessment. ‘Learn everything by heart’ governs. Rote learning, in itself, is a cluster of several factors. Firstly, monotonous teaching is an obstacle. Regrettably, university graduates who fail to secure a job in their profession-relevant field try their luck in the teaching arena. These seasonal teachers grapple with developing a robust pedagogy. Hence, they need to lock up students’ attention.
Teaching tenure sways in the wind of uncertainty: the teachers quit once a higher-salary job is found. Students who have just started constructing a bridge with the teacher stumble to settle down with the new teacher. Subsequently, study rhythm is interrupted, and momentum decreases, botching the exams and tangled concepts. Schools, specifically middle- and low-class private ones, must be held accountable as their recruitment process continues throughout the year.
Additionally, multi-grade teaching must be discouraged in private schools. This unwanted baggage scatters teaching performance. Creativity has a small portion in the curriculum, leading to failure in stimulating reading and writing skills. Some of the endorsed textbooks are a motley collection of boring texts. Students are not robots to amass information. Rather, they should acquire ‘meaningful’ knowledge that awards them a distinction in society and enables them to carve their path to success.
The examination system is another culprit. Exams are designed according to the content in the textbooks only. There is no means to gauge critical thinking and trigger the application of problem-solving. Remedial steps are required immediately under the current scenario:
- If a person yearns to serve as a school teacher, there should be a requirement of a “Teacher Training Certificate,” and there must not be leniency for their tenure. Teachers may quit once an academic year ends.
- Also, the curricula should mirror global standards. The Single National Curriculum (SNC) is promoted as transformative, but without strict implementation, it could be an upheaval. Spreading equity without raising standards is null and void. In higher grades, erudite subject specialists shall be recruited, preferably from 7th grade onwards. Affluent schools like Roots Millennium, The City School, Beacon House, and Army Public Schools (APS) follow the pattern, but other private institutions must standardize themselves accordingly. Students will be encouraged to participate in international science competitions. For example, school kids in Pakistan are oblivious to the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global fun challenge held every year from April to June. The task is to explain a complex concept of physics, mathematics, or life sciences in a short (usually 2-minute) video. The prize includes a post-secondary scholarship. Noteworthy, the teacher gets awarded, and the school lab receives money also. Pakistani schools need to prepare higher-grade students for such competitions.
- Only university graduates will be able to serve as teachers. There must be a strict procedure to verify their degrees. It is a norm to see young girls, who themselves are intermediate students, teaching in schools to earn.
- Teachers must be obliged to check exams within the schools, with the marking system shrouded in secrecy. They should not be allowed to take answer booklets elsewhere. It is a norm in Lahore and a few other cities where university students, specifically those living in hostels, earn some petty cash by marking tests of school students. Indeed, it is justice to be sentenced to death, as the actual teacher of the subject could not keep track of performances.
- 5th and 8th-grade board exams must be a compulsion in all schools. There shall be no promotion to the next grade in the event of failing these exams. Furthermore, these board exams must set an aptitude test for the assessment of intellectual capacity. Besides preparing kids for BISE and CIE appearances, the board exam will also assess learning.
- It is time to block the supply of homework. Learning hours and fun time must be in proportion to each other. Exhausting young shoulders with needless written homework drains all their energy; learning becomes a distressing task. Teachers must not assign homework that takes more than 1-2 hours.
Moving forward, it is burdensome and leaves one trapped in gloom when observing kids struggling to read and write Urdu and English. While elite-class private English medium schools are guilty of acid attacks on Urdu, public schools and low-class Urdu medium schools are culprits of bruising English and Urdu language learning. Recent research on International Literacy Day by ASER disclosed a dumbfounding fact: “In Pakistan, 77% of kids aged ten (10) cannot read and comprehend a simple text.” As a testament to being a private tutor, I recently met a 7th-grade pupil who was unable to read simple words like “history” and “world.”. How could the school justify her presence in 7th grade with this staggered learning? One might blame the pupil`s learning capability.
However, the scenario was crystal clear when she spilled the beans: the teacher asks students to read a paragraph as homework, and students are supposed to answer questions about assigned work the next day. If one fails to answer correctly, one receives strict punishment. I felt bathed in surprise and despair at such a state of public schools, but more was yet to come. My astonishment knew no height upon meeting a student from a standardized private school who could not read and write a simple sentence in Urdu, and she was in ninth grade preparing for BISE exams. To enhance effective language learning, below are some realistic approaches:
The hiring of certified language teachers will be a priority. For the English language, teachers must show TOEFL or IELTS exam results with a minimum requirement of C1 level or a relevant degree with a major in English to stamp proficiency. Similarly, for Urdu, M.A. Urdu is a considerable prerequisite. Research-based methodology must be employed to enhance language learning.
- To refine the process, there will be weekly writing classes. Those classes must teach creative and non-creative writing, e.g., the basics of essay writing and tools for short stories. Schools must foster a reading culture by building small libraries and devoting a portion of their weekly study hours to library reading. Intra- and inter-school literature-based competitions will create an environment of learning with fun. Let the children realize that reading is not a burden but a creative, fruitful activity.
- Students trip over math. To quote the reports of The News International: “More than 90 percent of primary and lower-secondary students in Pakistan have only a weak or basic understanding of the mathematics and science they are required to learn, according to a nationwide study conducted by faculty at the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development, Pakistan (IED).” Relying on mundane classroom teaching presents a needless workload. The services of ALOHA are formidable options. Besides focusing on mental arithmetic skills, the program also hones reading, listening, and visualizing skills, idealizing the formative learning period. Innovation, coupled with creativity and fun, is the prime way to tackle students. It is time to renovate our teaching arena.
In an era when revolutionary technology continues to open thousands of doors to uncountable opportunities, Pakistan’s schools must not lag far behind. Rather than teaching soulless computer science textbooks in classrooms and spending little time in computer labs to get hands-on experience, shifting to practical learning promises much more. Why not teach middle-grade and higher-class students coding languages like C or C++? Not only could that elevate them to a good position, but it could be a decent side hustle for them later. For example, students could build an online past-paper question bank for classrooms. Harnessing the power of young minds is possible in several ways. It is up to us whether we let their attention wander and eventually die or direct it correctly. It is a matter of collective efforts to decide whether we want to drive something from this power.
The lacklustre performance of schools is a lull before the storm. More and more problems go undiscussed, extending the debate to hours. However, earlier-mentioned issues grab top spots in the list. Improving the schooling system is not to attain a degree but rather to extract the hidden talent of kids. Many school kids secretly nurture a dream of being a writer, a scientist, an artist, or an archaeologist, perhaps. We must not shatter those dreams. Instead, back them to let that vivid imagination come true. Every kid is not going to become a doctor or an engineer. None of the professions is unyielding. It is all a simple calculation of hard work and devotion.
Study habits persist at higher education levels. Therefore, schools must be the priority for educational reforms. Noteworthy, the solutions link back to governmental support. Public schools fall within the ambit of the government, but there must be a well-built rapport between the government and private schools to straighten out the deformed system. Apart from learning problems, other factors, like low budget allocation for education and a lack of basic facilities, also affect the performance of schools. To round off, a stable economy alone is not a green signal for development. Other sectors implore improvement. Growth as a nation will remain a cherished dream without a standard education. News of 22.8 million dropouts has made headlines, but the question remains moot: ‘Are enrolled kids different from dropouts?